The Virtue of Performing Mitzvot in Joy
The Midrash encourages us to share in the joy of a person who offers his Bikkurim (first fruits) to the Holy One, blessed be He, for the first time in performing each of the mitzvot of the Torah (Vayikra Rabba 11:7). Let us look at an example: The birth of a firstborn son (bechor) fills parents with immense joy, especially if they have been awaiting a child for a long time. This joy brings them closer to G-d, to Whom they express their feelings of sincere gratitude. This birth brings with it the opportunity to perform many mitzvot, including circumcision and the redemption of the firstborn. But that is not all, for the delighted father is responsible for teaching him Torah and a trade, finding him a wife, teaching him how to swim, and so on (Kiddushin 29a).
However if this couple has a child each year, their joy is not the same, since routine begins to set in. Even though the father is supposed to carry out all the aforementioned mitzvot for each of his sons (except for Pidyon Haben, which only applies to the firstborn), his joy in doing so is less intense. Parsha Ki Tavo begins with the word vehaya and deals with the Bikkurim (Deuteronomy 26:1) in order to teach us that each mitzvah must be performed in joy, as if it was being performed for the first time.
This will help us to understand the connection between Parsha Ki Tavo and Ki Teitzei. In the latter, we wage war against the evil inclination and learn that it waits for us everywhere, that it is constantly setting traps for us, and that it is deeply entrenched between the two parts of the hearts (Sukkah 52b). We also learn that it wants to make us sin precisely in that which is permitted, and to make us sink into routine. As a result, ki tavo, we must perform each mitzvah that presents itself to us in joy, as if we were doing it for the first time, and we should push ourselves not to miss such an opportunity (Mechilta Bo 12:17).
Let us drastically flee from the counsel of the evil inclination, which aims to make us sin gradually (Shabbat 108b). Let us do our best to perform mitzvot with the utmost modesty, embodying the concept of Bikkurei Admatecha (the first fruits of your land), a reference to dust, the incarnation of humility. This will enable us to elevate ourselves to a great degree.
The mitzvah of offering the first fruits must also be performed with the greatest joy. The Gemara devotes an entire chapter to this solemn ceremony (Bikkurim Chapter 3, Mishnah 3), highlighting the fact that Hallel was played on the flute, which infused all spectators who came to the Temple in joy. If, on the other hand, we perform this mitzvah without joy, it is because we have fallen into the trap of the evil inclination, the embodiment of the phrase, “An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather” (Deuteronomy 26:5), which tries to make us fall into despair.
We must especially refrain from being filled with pride while performing mitzvot, which during the first fruits ceremony in Temple times was exemplified by the rich bringing their offerings in gold baskets (while the poor brought theirs in plain baskets), for there is nothing worse than pride. We must realize that “my heart is chalal [wounded] within me” (Psalms 109:22); we must be aware of our emptiness, our nothingness. We are all far from perfection, and we must implore G-d to help elevate us to the same spiritual level as our ancestors.
Parsha Ki Tavo warns us: “But it will be that if you do not hearken to the voice of the L-RD…then all these curses will come upon you and overtake you” (Deuteronomy 28:15). The Torah then lists the curses and finishes by asking how a person can refrain from listening to G-d’s voice. The reason is “Tachat asher lo [Because you did not] serve the L-RD your G-d amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant” (v.47). Therefore even if we were to perform mitzvot, but not in joy, we may be cursed (G-d forbid). The mitzvot that we perform in sadness are automatically grasped by the forces of evil, which are called yagon (affliction) and atzvuth (sadness), and thus losing to the evil inclination is guaranteed (Zohar II:264b). In the expression tachat asher lo, the word asher is composed of the same letters as the word rosh (“head”), meaning that if misfortune has come down upon your head, it is because you did not submit yourself and perform mitzvot in joy.
If we notice that our prayers are not answered, we are likely to experience doubts about our faith. The evil inclination naturally exploits such a situation and tells a person: “Forget about praying. You can clearly see that G-d is not answering you. Act as you would like – enjoy life!” The Torah interjects and encourages us not to get disheartened, but to continue moving ahead. It stresses the joy in studying Torah and performing mitzvot with the utmost enthusiasm, as if we had received them this very day (Tanhuma Eikev 7). The Torah tells a person that in such a case, he will not be exposed to the trials of the evil inclination, which hates joy. All his improper thoughts will then disappear, and simcha (joy) will contribute to erasing them.
As we know, we read Parsha Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20) before Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment (see Zohar III:231a). We should realize that, just as on Rosh Hashanah, we are actually presenting ourselves before Hashem – we are nitzavim (placed) before the Celestial Court each day – to be judged (Rosh Hashanah 16a). This is ki tavo: Let us present ourselves before Him each day in joy and obedience, as if we were praying for the first time, thus embodying the concept of Bikkurim. It is only in this way that our prayers will be answered and we will succeed in conquering the evil inclination.